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Christians opt out of health insurance that 'undermines' Bible

05 September 2014


Roll out: Under the Affordable Care Act state-subsidised health insurance is available to some Americans. Samaritan Ministries argues that "many of the current problems with the health care system are the direct result of restricting personal freedom and responsibility through dependence on third-party payers"

Roll out: Under the Affordable Care Act state-subsidised health insurance is available to some Americans. Samaritan Ministries argues that

CHRISTIANS in the United States who do not wish to buy health insurance that pays for conditions that "result from immoral practices" are being offered an alternative: to trust their fellow Christians to pay their bills.

It is estimated that about 300,000 Americans are members of medical sharing groups, and are thus exempt from the legal requirement, which came into force this year, to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. The groups are garnering increased attention, as tensions arise from the US government's health reforms, and religious groups' desire to secure exemptions (News, 4 July).

Samaritan Ministries, a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1991, has 36,000 households in its network, comprising more than 120,000 individuals. Every month, they share more than $9 million-worth of medical costs.

When a medical need arises, a member sends his or her bills to Samaritan Ministries. Those deemed "publishable" are then allocated to other members, who mail their "monthly share" directly to the member in need. This is an entirely voluntary process.

The current monthly share calculated by Samaritan Ministries is $405 for a two-parent family of any size. This is about three times less than the premium paid by the average insured family ($16,000 a year). The organisation attributes this to various factors, including the avoidance of habits that can harm health.

The financial advantage is likely to be eliminated for many families, however, under the Affordable Care Act, which provides state-subsidised insurance.

The Act has also banned annual limits on insurance plans, although there is a limit of $250,000 per need for members of Samaritan Ministries. Pre-existing conditions may also be limited or excluded. Members with HIV/AIDS must demonstrate that the condition was contracted "innocently".

Members must also fulfil spiritual requirements, verified by a pastor. They must be "professing Christians" who attend church at least three out of four weeks every month. They must sign up to a statement of faith, and avoid drugs, sexual activity outside "traditional biblical marriage", excessive alcohol consumption, and tobacco.

Samaritan Ministries states that outsourcing the payment of health care to the government or an insurance party can "undermine" the biblical principle set out in Galations 6.2 ("Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ"). Members must waive their right to file a lawsuit against the organisation, or any of its members.

Medical sharing groups are operating against a backdrop of conflict between the US government and religious groups who are seeking to secure opt-outs from the requirement to provide insurance for employees which includes expenses such as contraception and abortion.

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